70th Emmys descend further into white mediocrity
If you watched the Emmy Awards last weekend, congratulations! You probably don’t exist. The award show — perennially denied the coveted “least relevant” spot by the god-awful Grammys — limped into its 70th showing in typical fashion and was rewarded with the lowest Nielsen in its history. Questionable choices abounded in hosting, nominations and award selection.
Going into the evening’s affairs, expectations were hardly sky high. Then again, why would they be? Remember, the Emmys have propped up the bloated corpse of “Modern Family” for years at this point. Then again, a fresh new crop of innovative and diverse shows had been nominated, so maybe this was finally the year the award show would turn a corner. Maybe the Emmys were finally ready to give shows like “Atlanta,” “Killing Eve” and “Black-ish” a shot — or maybe not.
From the second the hosts were named, these Emmys were doomed to cultural irrelevance. Host network NBC tapped longtime Saturday Night Live impresario Lorne Michael to produce the ceremony, and he clearly didn’t spend that much time looking for outside talent. Instead, he called upon his Weekend Update co-hosts. Placed in the hands of the middlingly funny Michael Che and human signpost Colin Jost, the Emmys were almost guaranteed to be a milquetoast affair. You may remember Jost from his execrable appearance at last year’s Parents Weekend, in which he struggled to remember the very concept of location-based humor. In fact, the only strong position the two hosts seemed to be willing to take was a disdain for award shows. In an Aug. 14 with the Los Angeles Times, Che admitted that he hadn’t watched an awards show since the MTV VMAs of the mid-90s, while Jost complained, “I think most of the time they’re way too self-serious and focused on things that 99 percent of the country doesn’t care about. At the end of the day, it’s adults getting trophies. Why should that be taken seriously?” When I think of my model award show host, I think of a guy who seems to have basic contempt for the idea of criticism or high art — perfect fit right there.
Predictably, the skit part of the ceremony fell flat. Almost reliant on other, better, SNL cast members like Kenan Thompson and Kate McKinnon, Che and Jost aimlessly drifted through the proceedings. Instead of going after the #metoo-shaped elephant in the room, Les Moonves, Che and Jost felt content throwing out fossilized pop culture fragments about Roseanne Barr and “Cheers” — yes, “Cheers.” Really on the cutting edge there, guys.
Before the show kicked into full gear, Che got a few laughs for a bit about “Reparation Emmys” for Black performers like Jaleel White and Marla Gibbs unfairly snubbed in their time, but the ceremony would soon prove that the Emmys are far from done in the rewarding-white-mediocrity department. On the whole, Che’s act alone would have been predictable but largely tolerable in the small doses provided, but Jost was just plain awful.
After a moribund and confused seventh season, “Game of Thrones” was still showered with trophies, as if it’s the default option for Drama awards now that Mad Men is firmly in the cultural rear window. Remember how excited everyone was when the Emmys finally rewarded Peter Dinklage’s career-defining work as Tyrion Lannister with a trophy? Now, Dinklage is stuck wandering through a tired and confused script devoid of any of the wit of George R.R. Martin’s novels, yet he still walks home with the hardware, because the Emmys can’t be bothered.
“Atlanta,” the outright favorite for the majority of Comedy awards, came up almost entirely short. Instead, the Emmys lavishly rewarded Amazon’s “The Marvelous Ms. Maisel” and HBO’s “Barry.” Seeing Henry Winkler accept an award that most people thought was going to Lakeith Stanfield in 2018 was truly an odd sight. “Barry” was a perfectly good show, but remember that the award that Bill Hader accepted had previously been given to Jim Parsons on repeat for his portrayal of endearing human abomination Sheldon Cooper. “Atlanta”’s rejection essentially cast a black cloud over the rest of the event, its presence sorely missed.
Even the deserving awards felt somewhat cheapened by their circumstances. Matthew Rhys finally took home a trophy after six seasons of excellent work on “The Americans,” but perhaps the Emmys could have tried to recognize him while the show was still actually running? Thandie Newton was rewarded for her work on “Westworld,” a show whose baffling second season rendered her the only watchable character.
If there’s one central point that the ceremony wanted you to know, it was how much the Emmys care about diversity — too bad the awards list barely reflected that. Instead, we got a very, very white event. Perhaps the low light came when “Rick and Morty” stars Rick and Morty, soon to be rewarded with a Best Animated Series award for their edgiest and dude-broiest season yet, “stopped in” in a pre recorded segment to hypothesize about how many awards “Atlanta” had already won. At that point, “Atlanta” had lost 5 out of the 5 awards it was nominated for that night; the only Emmy it received was a Special Emmy for Katt Williams’ guest appearance the night before. Perhaps Dan Harmon should stop betting on Emmys results. At least it got something worth mentioning; other diverse shows like the aforementioned “Killing Eve” and “Orphan Black” came up empty-handed.
Maybe the issue wasn’t diversity but rather creativity. All of the previously mentioned shows are notable not only for their diverse casts but also their willingness to defy genre conventions and tropes. After all, the not terribly diverse but mindbendlingly innovative “Twin Peaks: the Return” was almost entirely shut out of award contention. Then again, the Emmys ignored the original “Twin Peaks” back in 1992, so clearly not much has changed. If you’re going to keep giving awards to safe and predictable programming, can those terms at least not be associated with all-white casts?
Ultimately, if the Emmys wants to get back into the cultural limelight, some sorely needed improvements should be made. First, get a real host. If Colin Jost or any other of the identical empty white-man skin envelopes they have running around late-night TV gets within 500 feet of the stage, cancel the show immediately. Second, actually try to make improvements to the voting process — maybe scrap the current voting process entirely. Any committee that thinks “The Amazing Race” is worthy of any sort of critical recognition doesn’t deserve to be the barometer of television quality. Finally, the Emmys need to actually listen to television audiences and critics instead of vaguely paying attention to whatever network throws enough money at them. This year it was Amazon, last year it was Hulu, the year before that, Netflix. Instead of blindly following ad money, the Emmys should reward daring new voices.